I love you also means I love you more than anyone loves you, or has loved you, or will love you,
and also, I love you in a way that no one loves you, or has loved you, or will love you,
and also, I love you in a way that I love no one else, and never have loved anyone else,
and never will love anyone else.
“Here we are again!
Bless me, I believe I said that before—but after all you don’t want Christmas to be different each year, do you?”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters from Father Christmas
Christmas for my family was different this year.
One (1) of my three (3) brothers couldn’t come to the East coast for Xmas.
We’re celebrating in the city, rather than upstate, which means an apartment and a baby tree rather than a big house with a fireplace.
And we have the cutest, most adorable mini addition to our family with my baby niece, Emilia.
I honestly can’t believe how perfectly cute she is.
Cannot get enough of her chub!
So although we didn’t have some of our traditions this year, we still had a lovely time together.
Gifts were opened, brunch was had (I made Belgian waffles, my mom made a delicious polenta dish, we all drank mimosas and coffee), and much cooing over the baby was done.
Now that I’m not a kid anymore, I am reminded each year that what I love most about Christmas is being with my family.
This year, I am especially reminded that home is where your family is.
So, about this cute little pastel Christmas cake.
Technically, everything except the reindeer’s ribbon scarf is edible. (No toothpicks used here, just uncooked spaghetti lol.)
The decorations are made of (non-gelatin) fondant that I added tylose powder to to make it more like gumpaste (firm and quick setting/drying).
Sculpting the reindeer took days, as I did each piece in turn.
I painted it with gold food coloring and used pink luster dust to add the blush.
The gingerbread house is made of a new recipe of gingerbread that I created, which has no eggs or water so that it doesn’t bubble and maintains its shape. It’s much more building-friendly, and although it doesn’t taste quite as good, it is still far more delicious than “construction” gingerbread.
Let me know if you want the recipe!
I stuck the gingerbread house together with melted white chocolate, and I will never use anything else! It is far more dependable than royal icing, because it sets quickly and, importantly, is just a little bit pliable when it sets—you can avoid things cracking and falling all apart because of a little push or drop here and there. It even survived a subway ride where it was rattling around in a tupperware a little.
A simple royal icing made the piped decorations, the snow on the trees, and the icicles.
My inspiration was the endlessly creative and cute Juniper Cakery, a bakery in the UK.
I hadn’t worked with fondant in so SO long, and while it’s not the tastiest thing in the world, it’s not entirely inedible, either. It also makes sculpting work so enjoyable and smooth.
For making something like a gingerbread house or a figurine that is unlikely to be eaten and isn’t integral to the cake, I really recommend it. You might be surprised as I was!
The cake itself is a soft-crumbed, lightly fragranced orange spice cake, redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and cloves, with orange and lemon zest.
It’s made using a reverse creaming method, meaning that you beat very soft butter into the dry ingredients, including the flour, before adding the wet. Bittersweet orange marmalade is spread between the layers to add an extra hit of citrus.
Finally, salted chocolate buttercream, made with unsweetened chocolate and extra cocoa powder to really amp up the chocolate flavor, enrobes the cake.
Orange, chocolate, and spice is a warming, cozy combination that evokes winter and Christmastime to me. If you’d rather leave out the citrus, a chocolate spice cake would also be delicious.
Merry Christmas, everyone! And to those who don’t celebrate this holiday, a peaceful and happy day.
Orange Spice and Chocolate Cake
makes 1 2×6-inch layer cake
for the orange spice cake:
1 egg yolk
150 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) flour
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground anise
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) butter, extremely soft
for the chocolate frosting:
175 grams (1 1/2 sticks, 12 tablespoons) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
50 grams unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate
340 grams (12 ounces, 2 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1-2 tablespoons cream or milk, only if needed
orange marmalade, if desired
Make the cake: grease and flour 2 6-inch pans.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk eggs, egg yolk, and buttermilk together.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, zest spices, and salt together.
Beat butter into the dry ingredients until it’s fully incorporated; mixture should be clumpy but there should be no large pieces of butter at all—aim for more of a paste, without overmixing.
Slowly stream in the wet ingredients while whisking.
Once fully incorporated, scrape the bowl and whisk another few times.
Portion evenly into the two prepared pans.
Bake for 18 minutes, or until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the buttercream: whip butter on high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, gently melt the chocolate over low heat with a bain-marie or in a microwave, going in small bursts.
Add the salt, half the powdered sugar, and cocoa powder to the butter; whip until incorporated.
With the mixer running, slowly stream in the melted chocolate.
Once fully incorporated, add the other half of the powdered sugar a spoonful at a time.
If the frosting is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of milk (I didn’t have to do this) and whip to incorporate.
Level the cakes if they have domed and spread 2 tablespoons of orange marmalade over the bottom cake.
Crumb coat the cakes with the frosting, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, and up to 2 hours.
Frost the rest of the cake thickly; I had about 2 tablespoons of frosting leftover, so if you want to add decorative piping, frost the cake a little more sparingly.
Decorate with fondant if desired!
“Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star.
It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago.
Maybe the star doesn’t even exist anymore.
Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything.”
—South of the Border, West of the Sun, Haruki Murakami
In the throes of warm happiness; or the bleak confines of sadness; or the boiling, poisonous depths of anger, it is hard to imagine a stronger emotion than that which has caught you, in that moment, in a tight, isolating embrace.
But increasingly, I find myself believing that nostalgia is the strongest emotion.
When you think about it, of course it is. This revelation is indeed not one at all, for no other emotion so fluidly combines each of your senses, as likely to be triggered by the scent and taste of a food or someone’s neck as the sight of a landmark or beauty mark, or a chilled wind or brush of familiar fingers or the soundtrack of a particular time of your life.
The empty melancholy of nostalgia makes my brain vibrate with a painfully pleasurable resonance. I can feel it mushrooming through my body, as my chest walls and throat constrict, as if I am hugging myself ever closer, ever tighter.
Wandering around the chilled campus of my alma mater for the first time since I gathered up all of my unknowns and heartbreaks and moved across the country, I felt that familiar emotion bubbling up aggressively, threatening to burst the tight seams that I have so much difficulty loosening.
I will admit to only a couple hot, confused tears borne of happiness and sadness.
Walking underneath the gates where we passed as first years, in our welcome ceremony, and then returned underneath to graduate into adulthood, I felt shivery and strange.
Always the students three years above seemed older, wiser, more ready. They left and I was temporarily sad, but the next year, life mostly just ticked onwards. It always felt far away.
In the end, I watched myself graduate into adulthood at essentially the same detached distance as I had all those who had gone before me, not because I wasn’t feeling intense emotions, but because it was simply a function of time passing, and naught can be done to stop that.
It happens whether you accept it willingly or not.
Still, the nostalgia I felt under Cobb Gate wracked me. My memories surprised me with their proximity. I yearned to be back in that time of my life, to be that person who I was when I first passed underneath the archway, or at least to be the person I was when I filed through for the last time.
I’m well past college at this point, emotionally and timewise.
Still, the nostalgia brought me back in an instant.
How lucky our species is, that possibly our keenest emotion is actually the dullest; the sharpest, clearest edges are smoothed by the blurriness of reminiscence.
I reckon perfect recollection would be a heavy burden indeed.
Instead, we sweep aside the boring and mundane entirely. We often view old flaming passions with bemusement. The trenches we trudged through seem much less deep and dark when looking backwards.
The gashes rent by grief, blessedly, are smoothed and filled in by fonder, treasured memories.
Even wild happiness is bridled in hindsight, as we shape it to fit what we know would come next; the magnitude of joy may stay the same, but there is little, if any, mystery or surprise to nostalgia.
Nostalgia is not an act of discovery. It is the opposite. It is an act of returning to a place—or a time, or a person—that feels like home.
RETROUVAILLES, subst. fém. plur. Fait, pour des personnes, de se revoir, en particulier après une longue séparation.
The cake I’m sharing today is unexpectedly nostalgic; a bit of a surprise twist on a classic.
The base swaps carrots for parsnips, imparting an extra earthy softness to the flavor; it’s rounded out with nubbly coconut and a hearty hit of warming spices. Miso caramel sauce, brought almost to the point of burning so that it retains a faint smokiness, is layered between the cake as well as mixed into the fluffy, creamy buttercream.
An extra pinch of salt here and there cuts the rich sweetness.
The frosting is swirled with extra caramel, and the cake is topped with the prettiest color-coordinated sprinkles.
Thanks so much to Wilton Cakes for providing me with materials used to make this cake!
Speaking of nostalgic, I’ve been using Wilton products since I started baking from scratch—I literally bought all of my starter items from the AC Moore in Ithaca (before it closed!). They had 2 1/2 aisles of Wilton products, and whenever my mom would go to pick up scrapbooking supplies or frames, I would wander over and daydream about making fondant flowers, baking armies of cupcakes, and using every cookie cutter ever invented.
Below are some links to products I used for this project, and how they can help you create beautiful baked goods more easily.
for the miso caramel frosting:
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup) water
90 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) heavy cream
30 grams (2 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons white (shiro) miso
big pinch salt, to taste
225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
650 grams (5 cups plus 3 tablespoons) powdered sugar, as needed
60-80 grams (1/4 – 1/3 cup) heavy cream, room temperature, as needed
big pinch salt, to taste
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grate parsnips finely, using a cheese grater or a food processor with the shredding blade.
Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt together.
Stir sugar and canola oil together, then whisk in the eggs one at a time.
Gently stir in the shredded parsnips and coconut, being sure to break up any large clumps.
Add the dry ingredients over the wet, and gently fold in, stirring firmly once or twice at the end to ensure homogeneity.
Portion out the batter evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs and the cakes are golden and the tops springy to the touch.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely.
Make the caramel for the frosting: place sugar and water in a small pot over medium heat.
Cook the caramel until it reaches an amber color; immediately remove it from the heat and whisk in the heavy cream and butter.
Whisk vigorously until the mixture is homogeneous, then pour into a bowl and add the miso and a pinch of salt; whisk again until the miso has broken up and incorporated.
Allow to cool completely, then add salt to taste if needed.
Make the frosting: whip softened butter for at least 3 minutes, until light in color and fluffy and smooth.
Add 1/4 cup of the miso frosting and start mixing on low speed.
Add in 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar at a time, stopping regularly to scrape the sides of the bowl.
Once 4 cups of the sugar have been incorporated, add 1/4 cup of heavy cream one tablespoon at a time.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and whip on high for 30 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Add the remaining amount of powdered sugar if the frosting is too thin; add an additional few tablespoons of heavy cream is the frosting is too thick.
Place 1/3 cup frosting on the first cake round; drizzle on about 2 tablespoons of caramel.
Repeat with the next round, then crumb coat the whole cake.
Frost the cake thickly, placing dots of caramel randomly around the cake to swirl into the frosting as you smooth the outside.
Pipe decorations on top as desired, then decorate with Wilton sprinkles!
Disclaimer: I was provided with a product in this post for free, in exchange for my honest and fair review. All opinions are my own. Bisous!
“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.”
― Edgar Allan Poe
The days are cool and bed is extra cozy.
Finally, even New York City is bearable.
It’s time to embrace pumpkin everything, Beloved!
Things in my life have been happy-crazy-busy, and will be for the foreseeable future.
Taking time to create can sometimes add extra scheduling stress, but when I make something I’m truly happy with, I’m reminded why I love blogging and baking so much.
I’ve been planning to make a hexagonal cake for ages now—but it’s remained on my ideas/to-make list, gathering dust.
When I finished the photos and stepped back, mouth full of a bite of cake, I was overcome with an indescribably proud and excited wave of emotion.
I love sharing things here, with you. I can’t imagine life any other way.
I had my heart set on using dulcey chocolate here, and I couldn’t find it anywhere, frustratingly.
I decided I’d take the extra step and caramelize white chocolate myself, but I had inadvertently put time constraints on myself (this post had to be done today, to be part of the virtual pumpkin party!), and worried it wouldn’t come out perfectly.
I always worry when I try something new for the first time in the kitchen.
Luckily for me, I stopped at a different Whole Foods on my way home from work one night. The lines were all super long, and I resigned myself to one that didn’t quite seem interminable.
Much to my surprise, the side section of this line had many containers of dulcey fêves. I snatched one up and silently thanked the universe.
This serendipity made making this cake even more satisfying.
This cake is a classic pumpkin base, soft and moist without being dense.
It’s carved into hexagonal shapes and briefly frozen to ensure crisp edges.
The cake is enrobed in spiced Italian meringue buttercream, silky smooth and redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, balanced with a hit of salt.
A modest drizzle of Valrhona dulcey chocolate ganache, which bewitchingly tastes like caramel and white chocolate at the same time.
Sliced and served with an extra swirl of dulcey chocolate, this is autumnal heaven.
84 grams dulcey chocolate
70 grams (4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) heavy cream
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour 3 8-inch round pans.
Whip butter and oil together until smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes.
Add in sugar, molasses, salt, and spices and whip on high for 3 more minutes.
Scrape sides of bowl and add in one egg; beat for a full minute before scraping sides again and adding the next.
Repeat once more so that all the eggs have been fully incorporated, then scrape the sides of the bowl.
Add flour, baking powder, and baking soda on top of the batter.
Add the pumpkin on top of the dry ingredients.
Slowly start to stir; mix on low until the pumpkin and dry ingredients are mostly incorporated.
Scrape the sides of the bowl once more and stir on medium speed to ensure that everything is homogeneous.
Portion out batter evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake for 30-40 minutes; a tester should come out with a few moist crumbs and the internal temperature of the cake should register around 210 degrees F.
Allow to cool completely.
If carving the cake, wrap and freeze the cakes for at least one night.
Carve the cakes into a hexagonal shape using a template and freeze again.
Make the icing: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place sugar, salt, and water in a small pot over medium heat, fitted with a candy thermometer.
Begin to whisk egg whites while syrup heats up.
Once syrup reaches 245 degrees F, the egg whites should be at semi-stiff peaks.
Pour the hot syrup into the meringue while beating at high speed.
Whip until the meringue is glossy and cooled to body temp.
Add the spices, then beat in 1 tablespoon of the butter at a time, beating until the frosting comes together into a glossy, fluffy, light mixture.
Make the ganache: heat heavy cream until simmering, then pour over chopped chocolate.
Allow to sit for 3 minutes, then whisk quickly until the ganache comes together in a shiny, smooth, homogenous mixture.
Allow to cool while you frost the cake.
Frost the cake with a crumb coat, then chill for a few minutes.
Finish frosting the cake and chill for at least 15 minutes.
Pour the ganache over the cake as desired.
Decorate with edible flowers!
He called her a melon, a pineapple,
an olive tree, an emerald,
and a fox in the snow all in the space of three seconds;
he did not know whether he had heard her,
or all three together.
—Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography
Do you consider yourself a picky eater?
I’ve never been a picky eater. I do avoid an entire food group because I’m vegetarian, but that’s not because I didn’t like the taste of meat, but rather that I no longer cared to eat animals. (Phew, didn’t mean for that to sound accusatory. I just don’t want plant based eating to be conflated with pickiness!)
When I was a little kid, I didn’t like spicy-stinky kimchi, but that quickly faded, presumably because it would go against my very genetics to turn my nose up at kimchi.
I didn’t love blue cheese, but didn’t encounter it often enough to make a fuss when I did. I always loved beets.
Chewy, bouncy textures (common in Asian desserts) have always entranced me.
Red adzuki beans, broccoli stems, pickled lemons, mushrooms, eggplant, tofu, kale, egg salad: all on my favorites list.
However, I always thought I didn’t like olives. Wouldn’t touch the little buggers, green or black or kalamata.
I knew I already loved olive oil—one of my favorite snacks has always been crusty bread dipped in olive oil with salt—but I had always refused olives as an icky precursor to that pourable gold. En fait, it wasn’t until college that I tried them, prompted by someone I trusted and an overwhelming desire not to embarrass myself in front of them with an uncultured palate.
I can hardly believe that I once didn’t like olives, since they are now one of my absolute favorite foods.
So much dislike and hatred and fear of otherness is due to ignorance and inexposure. How much could be solved by a simple introduction of the unknown by the familiar or the trusted.
I mean, look how guzzl-able a green smoothie is. Add enough banana and a good helping of nut butter and even the most chlorophobic person won’t mind the spinach.
Our inability to see the fallibility of the assumption that if we haven’t directly experienced it—haven’t directly heard or tasted or seen it—that it doesn’t exist, or shouldn’t exist, or couldn’t possibly be good, continues to stun me.
We are all trapped within our own narrow umwelts.
Am I about to try to slop the metaphor of picky eating onto current events? MAYONNAI- MAYBE.
We should look to those whom we elect to be the trusted ones, to introduce us and bring us together rather than tearing us apart. They should vouch for us all, but not at the expense of others outside of our nation, either.
Bigots shouldn’t be allowed to hold office.
Discriminatory palates shouldn’t get to dictate what goes into the melting pot.
Those who wave the bible around to justify themselves would do well to remember that the commandment is to Love Thy Neighbor, not Choose Thy Neighbors Out Of People You Already Like.
The ridiculous fear-mongering over immigrants and POC and the denial of the Everywoman’s lived experience represents the worst of the assumptions we can make about others of backgrounds different than our own.
Here’s the bottom line: today is the last day to register to vote in many states. Are you registered yet?
I urge you to take just a minute to check, or double-check.
No matter from which side of the aisle you will be heard; your voice deserves legitimate space.
Let’s not choose politicians who don’t think everyone’s voice has value, or who talk over others.
The incessant lying isn’t helping to open our minds. We must force ourselves out of our comfort zones: do your research, thoroughly.
Don’t rely on one source for your news. Do your best to empathize.
Try an olive, or two; extend that selfsame branch.
Back to olive oil, now.
This cake was hailed by some as the best they had ever tried.
When I took my first bite of the slice shown in these pictures, the fork nearly dropped out of my hand.
The cake is outrageously soft and plush, with a moist, even crumb that is almost silly in its unbroken uniformity. Creamy whole-milk ricotta combines with peppery, lemon-infused olive oil from Pasolivo to create a delightfully subtle flavor profile; almond flour adds softness to the structure, and a glaze made of yet more ricotta and olive oil adds continuity to the taste and a light crunch to the exterior of the cake.
This is the pan I used, from Nordic Ware. I think it’s just gorgeous, with all its dramatic swooping swirls.
Additionally, it’s about half the size of a standard bundt pan, which means I can fit it in my cram-jam packed pantry and it bakes up much more quickly than a 10-cup bundt cake.
Just make sure, as with any bundt pan, to grease the edges, corners, and hidden nooks very well!
for the glaze:
2 teaspoons lemon-infused olive oil (such as Pasolivo Lemon Olive Oil)
2 teaspoons ricotta
115 grams (1 cup) powdered sugar
generous pinch salt
milk, as needed
Make the cake: grease and flour a 6-cup capacity pan; use a mini bundt, or an 8 x 3-inch or 9 x 2-inch pan.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk olive oil, sugar and salt together in a large bowl until fully incorporated.
Whisk the eggs in, one at a time, making sure each is fully incorporated before adding the next.
Add the ricotta and stir until it is halfway incorporated.
Add the flour, almond meal, baking powder, and baking soda on top of the batter, and stir to fully incorporate the dry ingredients and the ricotta.
Pour into prepared pan and smooth top.
Bake for 45 minutes to an hour for a mini bundt, and 35 minutes to 45 minutes for a round pan.
A tester should come out with a few moist crumbs and the internal temperature should register at 210 degrees F (begin checking at 45 minutes for a bundt, and 35 minutes for a round pan).
Allow cake to cool.
Make glaze: whisk olive oil into ricotta until smooth.
Whisk in powdered sugar and salt; it will be thick.
Thin the glaze until it is of pourable consistency using 1/2 teaspoon of milk at a time.
Place cake on a wire rack with parchment paper beneath it.
Pour glaze over the cake, then collect drippings (if desired) and pour over cake a second time.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a product in this post for free, in exchange for my honest and fair review. All opinions are my own. Bisous!
“You must expect great things from yourself before you can do them.”
Let’s see. Twenty three trips around the sun.
My birthday is coming to a close soon. I don’t feel much wiser.
(Actually, today was brutal as I had a liiiiittle bit too much to drink last night. Therefore, I currently feel significantly more foolish.)
By the way: “Jordan Year” because I am 23 and that is MJ’s number.
Obviously this year will be a slam dunk. Ha ha hee hee ho.
I often use my birthday as a time of reflection; last year I was still fighting through waves of sadness after the break up, and it was important for me to spend time writing so I could deload all of the conflicting feelings I had about celebrating alone.
This year, I don’t feel like I’m battling any demons. I am quite content, actually.
So I spent the weekend lazing about, hanging out with my friends, and drinking altogether too much tequila. Tons of my friends came out to celebrate me. It was so wonderful to see friends meeting friends, and being surrounded by them was the best gift possible.
I feel loved, and lucky, and very warm and fuzzy.
(And hungover. Did I mention that already?)
I received some seriously thoughtful, sweet gifts from my loved ones.
Gifts stopped being the primary reason for excitement for my birthday (or Christmas) a long time ago, but I would be lying if I didn’t say that a carefully curated present doesn’t make me feel extra loved.
Having my birthday on a Sunday is a little rough, as I’ve been hit with the Sunday Scaries (trepidation about going to work on Monday morning) extra extra extra hard.
So cheers, to any of my friends reading this, and to you, dear readers.
Thank you for accompanying me on this journey.
This year, I chose to make a pavlova with French meringue, instead of my typical Italian meringue. I actually think that this was one of my best pavlova shells ever: it was crisp and smooth, no graininess or stickiness whatsoever.
I had to make the meringue twice because the first time I had a bit of egg yolk in the bowl. I was so very unenthused by this. So take it from me: use three bowls while separating your eggs.
One for yolks, one for whites, and one to crack the whole eggs into.
This pavlova is filled with salted whipped mascarpone, fluffy and more complex and stable than a pure whipped cream; lemon cream curd, which is extra buttery and rich; blackberries, figs, and thyme with a light dusting of powdered sugar.
Pavlova is always so light; I can never resist it. It may be unconventional for a birthday cake, but what can I say, we like what we like.
It’s best served a few hours after it’s been assembled; leftovers will save moderately well for one night in the fridge in an air-tight tupperware, but more than 12-18 hours and it will disintegrate.
Birthdays, previously (and no, I don’t know what happened to 17 and 19…):
Pavlova with Lemon Curd and Salted Whipped Mascarpone
for the meringue shell:
4 egg whites
250 grams (1 1/4 cups) sugar
2 teaspoons tapioca or corn starch
1 teaspoon vinegar
for the lemon curd:
150 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) lemon juice
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
1 egg yolk
170 grams (1 stick plus 4 tablespoons) butter, cut up
for the whipped mascarpone:
178 grams (6 ounces) mascarpone, room temp
60 grams (1/4 cup) whipped cream, room temp or slightly cooler
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 pint blackberries
Make the filling: place lemon juice, sugar, salt, eggs, and egg yolk in a bain-marie (a bowl over a simmering pot of water).
Whisk vigorously over medium-low heat until combined; whisk every 30 seconds or so to prevent lumps from forming.
Cook for 7-10 minutes, until thickened and at a low boil.
Remove from heat and pour into a blender canister or another bowl if you have an immersion blender.
Allow to cool for 5 minutes, then add the pieces of butter in and blend on high speed until light in color and thick.
Allow to cool completely before using.
Make the pavlova shell: preheat oven to 200 degrees F and line a baking sheets with parchment; draw 2 6-inch circles on the paper.
Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer and start to whip.
Stir the sugar, tapioca (or corn) starch, and salt together.
As the egg whites become frothy, add the sugar mixer in tablespoons, until the meringue is glossy and shiny and all of the sugar is incorporated.
Whip the vinegar into the meringue.
Using a palette knife, spread the meringue into rough circles on the parchment, using the knife to create high sides, and piping extra decoration if desired.
Bake for 2 hours at 200 degrees F, then turn down the oven to warm (or its lowest setting) and leave overnight, or until light and crisp and completely dry.
When ready to assemble, make the whipped mascarpone: place all ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whip attachment.
Whisk on high until the mixture is fully homogeneous and fluffy; do NOT over-mix as it will curdle.
To assemble, dollop a quarter sized spoonful of lemon curd onto a cake stand or plate.
Place the first pavlova disk on the cake stand, then spread a thick layer of lemon curd on top.
Spread about 1/2 cup of the mascarpone over the curd, then top with the second pavlova disk.
Repeat the lemon curd and mascarpone layers (you will have extra of both leftover; you can serve them on the side), then top with blackberries and sliced figs.
Place some thyme in and around the fruits, then dust with powdered sugar.
Pavlova is best a few hours after it is made, and best consumed within 18 hours.
When I was one-and-twenty I heard a wise man say,
‘Give crowns and pounds and guineas
But not your heart away;
Give pearls away and rubies
But keep your fancy free.’
But I was one-and-twenty
No use to talk to me.
When I was one-and-twenty I heard him say again,
‘The heart out of the bosom
Was never given in vain;
‘Tis paid with sighs a plenty
And sold for endless rue.’
And I am two-and-twenty
And oh, ’tis true, ’tis true.
A. E. Houseman
I am awaiting the cool luxury of September and Autumn to sink into me, into my bones and the clouds and the breeze and the branches of the trees.
Instead, New York has gotten a miserable late-season heatwave. It’s a disgrace to my favorite month. Just yesterday, the heat index was 105 degrees F! Gross! I am legitimately just a puddle of sweat and skin cells. Lovely visual, I’m aware.
As I mentioned in my last post, I can’t be bothered in this heat to turn on the oven.
What’s more, last night my air conditioner broke… I was ready to jump out of a window. There is a unique hellishness about sitting in a tiny New York shoebox apartment in sweltering heat even after the sun has set, unable to open the windows for relief due to the drive shaft trash smell and the fumes from the pizza shop below me. Pizza scent may sound appealing, but 24/7 it is truly nauseous. Trust me on this one.
The heat makes me lazy and a little insane. I’m much more prone to losing my shit over little things; I am lethargic (still haven’t fully unpacked from LDW in the Hamptons…) and unmotivated. And mostly, I am antsy! Give me fall!
I am praying it won’t be this hot for my birthday, which is next Sunday! I think we should all expect a pavlova to show up on this page in honor of, well, me. /shrug/
This beaut of a cheesecake is raw, vegan, gluten- and sugar-free, and utterly virtuous.
I’ve made cheesecakes like this before, and I really enjoy them, even if I don’t follow a raw lifestyle.
The cashew and coconut milk base is ultra creamy. It barely need any sweetener, so a drop of maple syrup does the trick.
A bracing helping of matcha helps to balance the richness, and a salty-sweet date and almond crust provides a thoughtful chewiness to each bite.
I decorated mine with strawberries, freeze-dried raspberries, and chopped pistachios, because it’s what I had on hand. And, for the record, with this heat, it’s still summer fruit season so stock up on strawbs!
When I was home, I even picked and devoured some rhubarb. And the peaches I bought at the farmer’s market this week were better than the apples that I bought, so that says something.
Enjoy it while it lasts; you don’t know what you’ve got, etc. etc.
A few tips about successfully making a raw cheesecake:
Don’t line your pan with parchment paper unless you want divots in your final cake.
If you don’t have a high powered blender, soak your cashews in cold water for at least 8 hours. They should be swollen and soft, but not slimy. You can keep them at room temperature or in the fridge.
If you have extra crust, or want less crust, don’t toss it! And don’t lay it on super thick as it can get hard in the freezer! Just roll the extra crust into energy balls. They make for fantastic snacking and/or decoration for the cake.
Use any combination of fruit and nuts to decorate that you want. Green tea goes really well with stone fruit, berries,
nuts, and chocolate.
Use high quality matcha here: since the cake is not being baked, any overt bitterness won’t be covered up by sugar/butter.
Raw Matcha “Cheesecake” makes 1 6-, 8-, or 9-inch cheesecake, depending on how thick you want it
for the crust:
150 – 200 grams (1.5 heaping cups) whole almonds
12 dates (or as needed)
big pinch sea salt
for the filling:
500 grams cashews, soaked overnight
big pinch sea salt
100 grams (7 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon) coconut oil
400 grams (1 2/3 cup) full-fat coconut milk
100 – 160 grams (1/3 – 1/2 cup) maple syrup
juice of 2 lemons
2 teaspoons matcha powder
Make the crust: pulse almonds with dates and salt until the mixture forms clumps and can be rolled into a cohesive mass.
Press the crust mixture into the bottom of a 6-inch springform pan.
Place pan in fridge while you prepare the filling.
Place all ingredients for the filling except the matcha in a large blender; start with the smaller amount of maple syrup.
Blend on high speed until smooth and creamy with no lumps remaining, about 5-10 minutes.
Take out half of the filling.
Save approximately 5 tablespoons of the white filling and place into a piping bag fitted with a star tip and place in fridge; pour the remaining amount over the chilled, prepared crust and place in freezer.
Meanwhile, blend the matcha into the remaining half of filling; taste and add more maple syrup as necessary.
Once the white filling has completely set, pour the green filling over.
Freeze until fully set.
Decorate with piped stars and swirls of the white filling; arrange freeze-dried raspberries, strawberries, and pistachios over top as desired.
You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth, thinking about how you’ll escape one day,
and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going,
but you never do it.
You just use the future to escape the present.
—John Green, Looking for Alaska
I think about the labyrinth of the present, of my mind in its current state, constantly. Impossible to escape, despite all attempts to invent oneself out of now and into another time. I do it all the time.
I look backwards, wistfully, elevating everything into bliss and wiping away traces of messy, imperfect reality.
The best days are always behind me.
I look forward, greedily, skimming over the years until I land on a future fantasia, where the disordered threads of my life have converged and become a disciplined ensemble.
The tidiest days are always ahead of me.
Living in the moment is something I often declare as a goal. It is an intention I have set, deliberately, at the outset of most inflection points during my time on Earth. I tell myself I will:
Spend more time with myself as I am right at this instant, and learn to feel comfortable in that state, one of constant evolution, yes, but also one of acceptance. Embrace all my past and future selves, real or invented or embellished, as they fold up into an origami soul.
Spend more time with real, live people. Friends, family, lovers. Admire them more for all their flaws. Hold their hands, feel their skin, covet their smiles and tears, kiss faces and foreheads, and look at them. Really look: even the harshest stare is softened into a misty gaze when directed at those about whom you truly care. Waste more time with them. Let pointless moments collect like droplets, with the full knowledge that the heart and mind can never overflow with happy, vague, little memories like these.
Most importantly, spend less time in raptured jealousy on the internet, poring over curated existences. This is the most difficult aspect of appreciating the moment, because it’s what sucks me out of the present most often. To divorce myself from technology, even for a few hours a day, is nearly unfeasible. Anything less than ultimate determination, and I find myself scrolling, absorbed but not absorbing. And without this final aspect, the first two fail with certainty.
I will, I will, I will. I promise. I try. I fail. Repeat.
All this begets a larger question:
How do you determine your self worth? How do you self-actualize and self-conceptualize in a super-saturated, 4K world, sodden with content and people and their highlight reels?
Is it such a wonder that so many struggle with it?
You hear it over and over again, that connecting with people is different now, in our online world. We simultaneously feel present in thousands of people’s lives, and can share intimate details of our own, from the comfort of our bedroom, but spend little time—if that—physically with others.
When we do, we are all nose-to-screen.
Pantone has it wrong. The color zeitgeist of this entire generation won’t change year to year, and it isn’t Ultra Violet or Radiant Orchid. It’s a pulsating, pale blue, the glowing whisper of an LCD.
It already has a Pantone-like name: Liquid Crystal, weakly illuminating—and connecting—the entire world.
If finding yourself among the superabundance of the internet is difficult, sourcing inspiration that allows you to be individually creative without being iterative can feel nigh impossible.
What hasn’t been created before? Where is your voice? And what is your signature?
Is it worth it to expend so much energy fighting algorithms? Competing to carve out your niche while millions do the same is invariably exhausting, but laughably easy to obsess over.
Most of us accept likes, clicks, comments as engagement. We chase it. Is there a better way for us creators to measure how much we make people feel? Is that not what we’re supposed to care about when we create?
I have to actively remind myself that it doesn’t matter whether people like my art or not. But I have the advantage of separation; this blog is an outlet, not an occupation. I am lucky. I sympathize with and admire those who have to learn how to exploit social media algorithms, or avoid their cold, ruthless chopping blocks.
Today, I am inspired by Serena Garcia Dalla Venezia, a Chilean artist who creates beautiful sculptures composed of tiny, undulating balls of fabric. Her work is mesmerizing, organic, and utterly unique.
One of the most popular cake artists on Instagram, Tortik Annushka, creates somecakes inspired by Serena that just blow my mind.
The mythical algorithm delivered this inspiration to me, and I couldn’t help but accept it and try to recreate it in my own kitchen, derivative or not.
So I’m sharing, today, this cake. It has my signature, but isn’t my invention.
It isn’t perfect, but I won’t let comparison, that thief of joy, in for even a minute.
Anyways, she’s not too special in flavor or make, in all honesty. A sturdy, trustworthy cake, with a time-tested frosting.
But gussy this simple almond and lemon cake, with a light crumb and subtle flavor, enrobed in a lemon Italian meringue buttercream, with pearls of marzipan covered in gold leaf, and suddenly it is not only striking, but a piece of art.
I hope we can all continue to be inspired, rather than overwhelmed, by the digital world. There’s so much out there to explore—more than ever before—as long as we’re careful not to lose ourselves.
Lemon and Almond Cake
makes 1 2×6-inch layer cake
for the cake:
60 grams (1/2 cup) flour
25 grams (1/4 cup) almond flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
zest of 1 lemon
60 grams (1/4 cup) yogurt, buttermilk, or sour cream
1 egg yolk (save the white for the frosting)
40 grams (2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) neutral-flavored oil
for the frosting:
2 egg whites
200 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
15 grams (1 tablespoon) lemon or lime juice
15 grams (1 tablespoon) water
1/4 teaspoon salt
212 grams (1/2 cup, 2 sticks) butter, cut into small pieces
gel food coloring
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease two 6-inch rounds.
Whisk the flours, baking powder, and salt together.
Rub the lemon zest and sugar in a bowl with your fingers until it becomes fragrant; add to the flour mixture. Add the yogurt, eggs, and oil, and mix together.
Bake for 22-27 minutes, or until the cake springs back to the touch and is golden.
Make the frosting: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer.
Place sugar, salt, citrus juice, and water in a small pot.
Begin to heat the sugar mixture on high as you whip the whites on medium speed.
When the syrup reaches 245 degrees F, your egg whites should be at firm soft peaks (almost hard peaks, but not dry).
Drizzle the syrup into the meringue with the mixer running; whip on high until cooled to body temperature.
Beat in butter one or two tablespoons at a time.
Beat buttercream on high speed until thick, glossy, and fluffy, about 4 minutes.
If buttercream is too soft, refrigerate for 20 minutes.
To assemble the cake, stack layers with 1/3-1/2 cup frosting between them.
Use about 1 cup of frosting to crumb coat and level out the cake; freeze for at least 30 minutes.
Finish the cake with the remaining frosting as desired, leveling out as best you can.
To decorate: divide marzipan into a few pieces.
Knead each piece with a varying amount of food coloring.
To achieve greys and purply-blues, I used white food coloring (titanium dioxide), black food coloring, and a little bit of purple.
Roll into different sized balls.
Cover some with gold leaf, using a brush or your fingers (careful not to breathe too hard!).
Smush the marzipan together into a cohesive shape, a tiny bit taller than your cake (measure it!).
You can use a little bit of water to make sure that the sculpture is stuck together.
Place it on the cake, then use any extra balls you have to decorate the top of the cake and add embellishments around the main part of the sculpture.
Always you have been told that work is a curse
and labour a misfortune.
But I say to you that when you work you fulfill a part of Earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you
when that dream was born,
And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth
And to love life through labour is to be
intimate with life’s inmost secret.
Happy sixth birthday, La Pêche Fraîche!
I can’t believe that these past years have flown by so quickly.
Six seems impossibly long. I swear I was celebrating two years just a moment ago, in my house’s common room in our dorm.
But I can’t deny it: it’s 2018, and the first time I hit publish was May 30th, 2012.
2012! I was an angsty 16-year old junior in high school, still taking AP Chemistry. I don’t think I even had my full driver’s license yet.
Now I’m an angsty 22-year old. Looking back on now in 6 years, I’m sure I’ll think I didn’t even have a properly-sized apartment yet.
In six years, will I still be running this space?
I suspect so, but expect nothing. Life takes on so many bizarre shapes, which I know well enough even as young as I am. What is certainly undeniable is that being a blogger, an internet writer, has become folded into my sense of self. Inextricably.
I don’t consider La Pêche Fraîche to be my alter ego, or a nickname, or anything like that. In fact, I don’t think of the title often—it is mildly disconcerting to ponder about.
LPF is, at once, of me and defining to me. I am the creator, but the implications of the final product are more than I think the pieces that I put in. What I mean is that when I think of this blog, I think of it as an independent piece of the world, when in reality it is simply a promulgation of my private self.
It does not—it cannot—exist apart from me. But somehow, in the ether, it does. Would that make it harder to put down and walk away from, or easier? I don’t know.
It is impossible to say whether La Pêche Fraîche, the fresh peach, is me, or if I am it.
It can be as difficult to pick up a mirror and look with clarity at yourself as to break your gaze and put it down. Narcissus, indeed.
This beauty of a cake is a triumph of coconut and chocolate.
The vegan coconut cake is wonderfully chewy, with a texture that is dense and moreish. Coconut oil provides the luxurious mouthfeel, and coconut milk keeps the whole cake extremely moist.
It is soft in the center, with a light, springy crumb.
Between the layers, a softly salted coconut and chocolate ganache is thickly spread for a rich, deep contrast to the sweet and silky coconut buttercream. Delicate, naturally dyed (freeze-dried raspberries and matcha!) flowers are laid on the cake, alongside little seed pearl sprinkles.
The whole effect is super girly and kawaii, and would be perfect for a tea-party, or a celebration of any kind. I love the hand-painted effect of the flowers, although I think I need more practice with the technique to really get it down pat.
Thanks for your support, dear readers. It means the world to me.
Everything here is for you.
Vegan Coconut and Chocolate Cake
makes 1 5 or 6 layer x 6-inch layer cake
for the cake:
360 grams (3 cups) AP flour
400 grams (2 cups) sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
480 grams (2 cups) canned coconut milk
200 grams (1 cup) coconut oil, liquid
30 grams (2 tablespoons) vinegar
for the chocolate ganache:
150 grams (5 1/2 ounces) dark dairy-free chocolate
30 grams (2 tablespoons) coconut oil
1/4 teaspoon salt
120 grams (1/2 cup) full fat coconut milk, well shaken/stirred
for the buttercream:
170 grams (1 1/2 sticks) Earth Balance or other vegan butter substitute
30 grams (2 tablespoons) coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon salt
625 grams (5 cups) powdered sugar, or as needed
45-75 grams (3-5 tablespoons) coconut milk, or as needed
crushed freeze-dried raspberries, matcha powder, and sprinkles, to decorate
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F and grease and flour 3 6-inch pans.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt together, and make a well in the center.
Stir in coconut milk, coconut oil, and vinegar until the batter is smooth.
Fold the shredded coconut into the batter and pour into prepared pans.
Bake until a tester comes out with just a few moist crumbs, or about 20-25 minutes.
Allow to cool completely.
When cakes are cool, split in half (one of my layers split incorrectly, so I only had 5 layers in this cake).
Make the ganache: heat chocolate gently in the microwave in 15 second bursts until 1/2 melted.
Add in the coconut oil and heat until the chocolate is 2/3 melted.
Set aside; heat the coconut milk and salt until warmed, about 20 seconds.
Whisk the chocolate vigorously while adding in the coconut milk; whisk until glossy and fully melted.
Set aside until cooled to room temperature.
Whip the cooled ganache until it is fluffy and lightened in color, about 1 minute.
Spread in between the layers of cake and place in fridge to set while you make the buttercream.
Meanwhile, make the frosting: place butter, coconut oil, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment.
Beat on high speed for 2 minutes, until very light colored and doubled in volume.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and add in 4 cups of the powdered sugar 1/2 cup at a time, beating on high speed after each addition.
Add in 2 tablespoons of coconut milk and beat on high speed to incorporate.
Scrape the bowl and taste the frosting; if it is too thin, add the next cup of powdered sugar; if it is too thick, add another tablespoon of milk at a time.
If it is too buttery, add the extra cup of powdered sugar plus 2 tablespoons milk and beat on high speed for another minute.
Split out 2 small portions of frosting (one about 3 tablespoons and one about 2 tablespoons) add the crushed freeze-dried raspberries (to the larger portion) and matcha (to the smaller portion), if desired, and beat to combine.
Frost cake, being sure to have a fridge nearby for when the frosting gets soft (the coconut oil doesn’t hold up well in high temperatures).
To make the flowers, use the edge of a palette knife or a small teaspoon to smear one petal/leaf at time.
Decorate with pearl sprinkles and fresh flowers!